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An inevitability in the age of algorithms is that people are going to try and find ways to “hack” them, to cheat the system, to get an advantage based on whatever tools they think they have available.
Of course, that approach makes sense – if you can get your business more exposure, why wouldn’t you? This is particularly true of platforms like Facebook, which now reaches 2 billion people. If you knew a way to cheat Facebook’s News Feed algorithm and boost your reach, you’d do it, especially since Facebook organic reach for Pages has declined so significantly in recent times.
Unfortunately, good “hacks” are hard to come by. I use the term “hacks” in inverted commas because most of these aren’t hacks, as such – hacks, in a more literal, tech-related context, relate to sifting through lines of code and finding a way in, based on in-depth data knowledge.
Now, these aren’t so much hacks as blunt force efforts to “game” algorithms, cheat codes that kind of work, but kind of don’t, dependant on your real-world goals. And real-world goals are, really, the only goals worth talking about. While many of these processes may help you improve your on-platform performance, in terms of vanity metrics, it’s the end goal numbers – the actual sales – that you really need to monitor.
Here is an overview of some of the more well-known “hacks” on various platforms, and the pros and cons of each.
Buying Likes – This is probably the classic social media marketing cheat. The market for buying fake followers has exploded in recent years and is now a multi-million-pound industry. And unfortunately, there is a real-world use case for fakes. Whether you like it or not, the number of followers and likes a page or person has does make a massive difference. For example, models are being refused work until they have crossed a threshold of 15k Instagram followers.In cases like this, you can see how buying fakes is almost incentivized, while for business starting out in social at this stage of the game, it can also seem appealing to pump up their stats with a few thousand fakes, at least as an initial base. The problem is that buying fakes can hurt your brand a lot more than it may seem.
First off, it’s against platform practices, and if you get caught, your page could get banned outright, negating your efforts completely. Second, it ruins your data insights – one of the key benefits of social media marketing is the access to audience insights you can gain, to help you learn more about your target market and their preferences. If your audience is all fake profiles, then that data is worthless, and it can be extremely hard to go back and remove the fakes at a later stage if you want to fix it.But third, it’s getting easier and easier for people to find you out. You might think that no one really pays that much attention, that you can get away with a few fakes and no one will notice – and maybe that is true. But there are tools like Twitter Counter, Fanpage Karma or SocialBlade which can highlight odd fluctuations and activity, pointing to suspicious methods.
These are not definitive, and not everyone utilises such tools. But someone might – and it only takes one too call you out and ruin your reputation.In most cases, it’s fairly obvious who is legit and who is not, and users are growing warier of such tactics. It might seem a good way to go, but I’d definitely advise against it. As social media become a more important element in the modern business process, the value of your social presence is also increasing in-step. It’s simply not worth risking for the sake of vanity metrics.
Instagram Pods – One of the more recent additions to artificial social stats inflation is Instagram “pods”, or groups of people who agree to like and comment on each other’s Instagram posts in order to boost their reach in the algorithm. The process is fairly simple – Instagram’s algorithm, which was introduced early last year, puts more emphasis on engagement. If your posts generate engagement, they’re more likely to show up higher in people’s feeds, and within Explore, which means you need to get Likes and Comments, particularly in the early stages, right after posting, in order to get the algorithm’s attention and thus, get more reach.
This is the theory behind the pods, which are groups of generally 20-30 people or businesses who all agree to like and comment on each other’s posts, boosting their engagement numbers and expanding their reach. Makes sense, right? Kind of. The pods process does make sense in terms of basic engagement – and yes, the algorithm does favour engagement. But the theory falls apart a little in the ongoing benefits.You see, Instagram’s algorithm, like the Facebook News Feed, is built to show you more of what you engage with and are interested in. the idea of pods is that you boost your chances through engagement alone, but that probably doesn’t work for expanding your reach beyond the followings of your fellow pod members.
The idea of pods generating more reach into News Feeds is based on each pod member engaging, which ideally, shares it further into their expanding network.That might work, but it will still be limited to those audiences, and unless each member of your pod has a highly engaged audience who are also interested in what you are selling, that reach will tail off pretty quick. In this sense, pods could still work if they were very targeted – but then again, the less their extended network engages with the content coming through, the lower the reach, and not only for each individual post but for each subsequent post from those members also.
That could leave you with a heap of comments and likes from pod members, boosting your vanity stats, but not real engagement – or conversions.In terms of appearing higher on Explore, Instagram’s actually tuned that in pretty well also – your explore section will show you more of what you’re engaging with, not random content based on engagement alone.
Sure, content similar to what you’ve been checking out, which also has a lot of engagement, will appear higher, and definitely, there’d be some benefit for specific searches related to your target terms. But again, if your content isn’t good, it won’t make any difference how many artificial comments and likes you have.
So, that was my quick blog on the pros and cons of social media “hacks”, I hope it was relevant, and you learnt something from this blog.